Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

Are Cell Phones Killing Bees?

I’ve heard a lot of strange hypotheses in my life, but this one is one of the strangest: mobile phones may be wiping out bees. How? According to the hypothesis, radiation given off by mobile phones and other hi-tech gadgets interferes with bees’ navigation systems, preventing them from finding their way back to their hives. Improbable as it may seem, there apparently is evidence to back this up.

Jochen Kuhn, a scientist at Landau University, Germany, recently found that bees do not return to their hives when mobile phones are placed nearby. Kuhn said this observation could provide a “hint” to a possible cause of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).

CCD occurs suddenly when the inhabitants of the hive disappear, leaving only queens, eggs and a few immature workers behind. The vanished bees are never found, but are thought to die alone and far from home. Curiously, parasites, animals and other bees that normally raid honey and pollen that are left behind when a colony dies, refuse to go anywhere near these abandoned hives. Why?

“I am convinced the possibility is real,” said George Carlo, a scientist who led a large study by the US government and mobile phone industry of hazards from mobiles during the 1990s.

The alarm was first sounded last autumn, but has now hit half of all American states. The West Coast is thought to have lost 60 per cent of its commercial bee population, with 70 per cent missing on the East Coast.

CCD has since spread to Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece. And last week John Chapple, one of London’s biggest bee-keepers, announced that 23 of his 40 hives have been abruptly abandoned. [story]

As if this isn’t bad enough, in addition to these potential perils to bees, evidence of health dangers to people from mobile phones is also increasing. But definitive proof is still lacking, mainly because many of the biggest perils, such as cancer, take decades to show up. However, an official Finnish study found that people who used the phones for more than 10 years were 40 per cent more likely to get a brain tumour on the same side of their head where they habitually held their handset. Equally worrying, a Swedish research team found that radiation from mobile phones kills brain cells, raising the possibility that teenagers could become senile in the prime of their lives. Additionally, several studies suggest that men who use mobile phones heavily have reduced sperm counts.

All in all, the potential (but unlikely) health damage due to radiation from hi-tech gadgets combined with the loss of the world’s bees is a very scary prospect.

Comments

  1. #1 Gabe
    April 16, 2007

    Ditch the Einstein quote!
    http://www.markturner.net/?q=node/2191

  2. #2 Hank Roberts
    April 16, 2007

    I think I saw that Einstein attribution debunked somewhere; might check it.

    I can’t read German so I can’t say anything about the supposed actual report that cell phones disrupt bee navigation; has anyone who actually knows the German study talked about it in detail? Is it science? is it anecdotal?

    It wouldn’t be hard to test, I suppose.

    My _guess_ is, red herring. The most likely cause appears from what I’ve read to be the new nicotine analogs that are being pushed as the next wave of pesticides.

    They disrupt memory. They in the short term act more strongly on insects than on mammals, if what I’ve read is true. I don’t think there are any bioaccumulation studies. If they accumulate in honeybees, likely they do in mammals too.

    I’d recommend someone knowledgeable look a bit into what’s been published and tell us something useful, I’m just a reader who likes searching.

    This, for example, pops up:

    http://www.stoxindia.org.in/download/Web-Abstract.pdf
    Silver Jubilee Year Celebrations of Society of Toxicology (STOX) India
    International Conference on Toxicology, Environmental and Occupational Health
    14-17th Nov., 2005
    INDUSTRIAL TOXICOLOGY RESEARCH CENTRE, LUCKNOW, INDIA

    “TOXICODYNAMICS OF IMIDACLOPRID – INTERACTION WITH ANTIEPILEPTICS
    Sharma R, Punia JS and Jain SK
    Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, CCS Haryana Agricultural University, Hisar-125004, India.

    “Neonicotinoids have emerged as a new major class of highly effective insecticides. Imidacloprid is a commonly used neonicotinoid because of its broad-spectrum insecticidal activity. Imidacloprid acts by interfering the transmission of impulses in the nerves of insects. In insects, it acts as a partial agonist at nicotinic acetylcholine receptor channel.

    “Its toxicodynamics in mammals have not been properly elucidated. This study is aimed at elucidating the mechanism of action of imidacloprid in mammals. Toxicodynamic
    interaction of imidacloprid with antiepileptics viz. pentobarbitone, fluoxetin, diazepam, carbamazepine and phenytoin on neuropsychobehavioural parameters was studied in mice….”

    I suspect we’re going to see FUD spread by, most likely, the companies selling the neonicotinoid chemicals as insecticides. The theory appears to be that they’re less likely to affect mammals (not “they don’t affect” but lower risk); they or somehting like them is certainly needed because immunity to the pyrethroids is growing fast.

    My worry is that the pyrethrin and nicotine analogs may be considered “organic” as the definition of the word has been taken over by agribiz.

    I recall reading that there is a wide variety of neonicotinoid agents in use, some with short breakdown times in soil, others with half lives over a year so they will build up over time.

  3. #3 Roy
    April 16, 2007

    If parasites, predators, and scavengers avoid the hive, there must be some signal they’re responding to, something to indicate a ‘sick hive’. This signal may also deter bees as well, which would rapidly deplete the hive and starve the healthy bees.

    I live in a city in Los Angeles County and have been noticing on my walks dead bees here and there, something I’d never seen as a kid. The first one I saw was a few years ago, and I wondered what insects or birds would feed on dead bees. I’ve only seen whole bees, none half eaten or hollowed out.

    Then I heard about CCD, but when the cell phone angle came up, I couldn’t see it. I worked with microwave for twenty years, so I know there must be an inverse-square law for radiation incidence, but many of the agricultural losses are out in the boonies were cell phone reception is poor or lacking.

  4. #4 Tom Renbarger
    April 16, 2007

    Can bees even detect radio waves? I thought they see in the UV.

  5. #5 Hank Roberts
    April 17, 2007

    Amateur reading for an hour; results posted at Revere’s Effect Measure, since I’m finding more about the neonicotinoid pesticides, not about cell phones, in my poking around.
    http://scienceblogs.com/effectmeasure/2007/04/cell_phones_and_honeybees.php

  6. #6 Ex-drone
    April 17, 2007

    I am doubtful that a non-ionizing EMF devices like cell phones could have such an effect on bees. It sounds too much like the debunked claim that power lines cause cancer. Although you mention a Finnish study that links cell phones with brain cancer, there seems to be more support for there being no link, including the recent WHO review, last December’s Danish study, the 2002 Dutch study and the 2000 FDA review. As the National Cancer Institute concludes: “Overall, research has not consistently demonstrated a link between cellular telephone use and cancer or any other adverse health effect.”

  7. #7 Bob O'H
    April 17, 2007

    Landau Universität ist in Deutschland!
    http://www.uni-koblenz-landau.de/

    And the Sindie’s report seems to bee Bad ScienceTM:
    http://badscience.net/forum/viewtopic.php?t=2272
    http://yorkshire-ranter.blogspot.com/
    (the Daily Mail link is suggestive. It has a reputation for this sort of silly scare-mongering. Everything either cures cancer, or is a miracle cure. And either way, we can blame foreigners)

    Including on cancer:
    http://www.jr2.ox.ac.uk/bandolier/booth/Cancer/mobmagca.html

    Bob

  8. #8 DavidD
    April 17, 2007

    That sounds like a strange experiment where bees avoid coming home if there’s a cell phone there. The cell phone signals are in the area of the hive whether the phone is there or not. So what’s different about the phone being there? Is it just that the phone’s there, turned on, transmitting, what? I’m surprised that whoever this is reporting that wouldn’t be more specific from the outset if this is something real.

  9. #9 Phil
    April 17, 2007

    Landau university is located in Germany and not the UK.

    From the article “Jochen Kuhn, a scientist at Landau University, UK”

  10. #10 Caledonian
    April 17, 2007

    If cellphone radiation were confusing the bees, why would predators and scavengers avoid the abandoned hives?

    This sounds more like anti-cellphone woo than meaningful scientific findings.

  11. #11 Caio de Gaia
    April 17, 2007

    It’s funny the panic and immediate “denialism” in most people’s reactions. If this thing proves to be true bees are doomed. I don’t own a cell phone so I’m sort of on the safe side here.

    Do you have a reference for the study?

  12. #12 Lucky
    April 17, 2007

    Great, this is an attractive news to one & all. People who are interested to know more about what medical physicians around the world are saying about the effects of cell phones and electromagnetic frequencies.For more information http://www.harmonicplanet.com

  13. #13 Brian Carroll
    April 17, 2007

    A couple of questions about the article.

    1. Who are these “scientists”? They are introduced to us as Jochen Kuhn, a scientist at Landau University, UK; and George Carlo, a scientist who led a large study by the US government and mobile phone industry of hazards from mobiles during the 1990s.

    Are either of them entomologists or beekeepers? Maybe they are electrical engineers? It would have been useful if the reporter had bothered to post the scientists’ credentials.

    2. Why would cell-phone radiation be a problem now when cell-phones have been pervasive for years? CCD is a new phenomenon, appearing only over the last two years (although other disappearances like CCD have occurred in the past before cell-phones existed).

    For more useful information about CCD, visit MAAREC (Mid-Atlantic Apiculture Research and Extension Consortium), which is the clearing house of information on CCD: http://maarec.cas.psu.edu/

  14. #14 Ca
    April 17, 2007

    Brian, here is a web page with a list of publications from what you call the “scientist”.

    http://www.uni-landau.de/physik/pubkuhn.htm

    For those of you who can read German here is a short presentation on this work.

    http://agbi.uni-landau.de/material_download/elmagexp_bienen_06.pdf

    Ok, a cell phone inside a bee hive looks probably a bit dramatic, but the point is probably simpler. What happens every time a bee goes around some one with a cell phone? Some areas are satured with emission in cell phone’s frequencies, others aren’t. There are many possible side studies that could be made on this.

  15. #15 Caio de Gaia
    April 17, 2007

    Brian, here is a web page with a list of publications from what you call the “scientist”.

    http://www.uni-landau.de/physik/pubkuhn.htm

    For those of you who can read German here is a short presentation on this work.

    http://agbi.uni-landau.de/material_download/elmagexp_bienen_06.pdf

    Ok, a cell phone inside a bee hive looks probably a bit dramatic, but the point is probably simpler. What happens every time a bee goes around some one with a cell phone? Some areas are satured with emission in cell phone’s frequencies, others aren’t. There are many possible side studies that could be made on this.

  16. #16 Marc
    April 17, 2007

    There was a long discussion on this over at SlashDot.

    Basic premise seems flawed, in that they point out that it seems to have started in US and “now” is hitting Europe. But Europe has far higher population and cell phone density than US, so why would it hit European AFTER North American bees?

    There has apparently been a long history of similar die offs every decade or two.

  17. #17 Hank Roberts
    April 17, 2007

    A beehive is a complex system (one mother; several fathers; behavior changes with age during a worker bee’s lifetime).

    I helped with a bit of research beekeeping decades ago, before DNA mapping; breeding study had shown that disease resistance in honeybees is partly managed by behavior tightly programmed genetically.

    (Bees from one inbred line cleaned only horizontal surfaces; bees from a different inbred line cleaned only vertical surfaces; each of those was vulnerable to disease organisms that built up on the uncleaned surfaces. They also had different circadian clocks (got up at different times of day. A normal hive with several fathers and good variety genetically would always have some worker bees cleaning every available surface.

    It’s easy to see that dieoffs would happen whenever some organism got the “key” to successfully invade or infect honeybees; their variability so far has helped assure natural selection will leave enough surviving queens and drones to repopulate.

    One way I think what’s happening now is different: the avoidance of the hives by other honeybees and other insects; they don’t immediately move in and rob out all the honey and stored pollen from a hive when a colony disappears.

    Heretofore it’s always been a truism in beekeeping that seeing a lot of bees around a hive going away burdened is a red flag — that particular beehive probably is damaged or sick, and has gotten so weak it can’t defend its stores, and is being robbed out.

    That’s what’s new here as near as I can tell, just reading the popular press — other bees and other insects avoid the hives when the colony disappears.

    They know something. Our problem is to learn what they recognize.

  18. #18 Dave Eaton
    April 17, 2007

    #11
    Skepticism isn’t denialism, Caio. Denialism is when there is refusal to accept evidence that has stood up to scrutiny, which has accumulated over time from independent sources, and when confounding influences have been taken into account. This sort of pointed questioning of methods and controls is 100% appropriate when something is actively under investigation, especially when only one or a few groups are trumpeting. It’s not our responsibility to believe squat, but theirs to convince. (An interesting question is when should the switch occur- when is one being cautious and proper in being skeptical of, for instance, cold fusion, and when is one just being hardheaded or dumb? I’ll leave that question for another thread, though…)

    Need to rule out tracheal mites, or some other disease. Commercial bees are supposedly not terribly diverse genetically, and epidemics are not uncommon.

  19. #19 Caio de Gaia
    April 18, 2007

    Dave, almost everyone reacted by dismissing the study and questioning the “scientist” credentials. The guy was careful and his results are relatively straightforward. Bees did avoid those hives with cell phones. The study seems solid in that regard. I agree with you that the association with CCD at this stage is speculation. CCD connection is not established, except in temporal overlap, but the result it’s still cool: bees don’t like cell phones.

    I don’t agree with you in that they need to rule out other explanations, it’s not their task. They do need to provide a causal mechanism for this process.

  20. #20 Christina Dongowski
    April 18, 2007

    I’m german, but not a scientist and I’ve browsed through the linked pdf of the article by Kever, Kimmel, Harst, Kuhn, Oten, Wunder. All of them are either phycists or environmental scientists. Only Otten has a backround in bees.
    What’s mor interesting: Their paper doesn’t even mention CCD.The study is a follow up to their first study about the influence of electromagnetic waves on bee navigation. Their conclusion: More bees that are exposed to the electromagnetic emissions of cell phones get lost on their way back to the hive than bees not exposed. But the number of bees studied and the design of the study does not allow to draw any straight conclusions. They worked with to few bees, the environmental conditions were poorly controlled and there was now measurement of the different frequencies the used cell phone emitted.
    The whole thing seems more like a pre-study for the real thing. Perhaps the somewhat sensational soundbite in the Independent article is intended so get more funding. Or it’s a misquote.
    Sorry for any mistakes, I usually do not write english summaries of german scientific papers.

  21. #21 dewey fischer
    April 18, 2007

    Cell phones per se is a streach–but what about WIFI and WIMAX?? These towere are going up everywhere! I live 6 miles from a small town and I have visual on two towers/ lights in the evening. Also there is the (?) possibility or geocentric satalites.–?

  22. #22 factician
    April 18, 2007

    I don’t think any credible entomologists think that cell phones are the cause of CCD. CCD has been seen several times over the last hundred years. Several of the events predate cell phones by *many* decades. The more likely cause is that most “industrial” bees are so inbred that they are all susceptible to the same diseases and mites. Check out http://www.ento.psu.edu/MAAREC/pressReleases/ColonyCollapseDisorderWG.html for a look at the group of entomologists who are most involved in looking at CCD.

    Unfortunately for those who would like to sensationalize this, it’s likely that CCD has a fairly trivial cause…

  23. #23 Torbjörn Larsson
    April 18, 2007

    Although you mention a Finnish study that links cell phones with brain cancer, there seems to be more support for there being no link, including the recent WHO review, last December’s Danish study, the 2002 Dutch study and the 2000 FDA review.

    I would add that while I don’t know about the specific swedish study mentioned (since there are no references, which would mean it is a no-no even mentioning them IMHO), most or all of these swedish studies comes out of a group that seems to have a medical sensationalist agenda. IIRC others have criticized the studies as being too small and having other methodological problems. In any case, the studies and results haven’t been repeated elsewhere AFAIK.

  24. #24 ahmed
    April 18, 2007

    maybe the cell phones appear like one of their predators(somehow!)…sorry if i sound naive but i took a bee course in my university given by a german tought beekeeper and im guessing maybe the phones even emmit some kind of vibration similar to one of their predators…i forgot their name(took the course two yrs ago) but if they even hear it they will be miles away form fear!
    food for thought…

  25. #25 Kelly
    April 18, 2007

    I’m a casual researcher but it seems more likely that a combination of things – pollution, noise, chemicals are weakening the immune systems of the bees and subjecting them to a new or known virus. I wonder if CO2 for example could be at such a high level that it is having a negative effect. This could have been an issue in the past as well so it could explain the recurrence of the problem. Perhaps the bees leave some “clue” behind that we are not detecting that is alerting the other animals and parasites of a viral or other problem.

  26. #26 skeptic
    April 18, 2007

    Phooey.

    It’s Chemtrails.

  27. #27 Biotunes
    April 19, 2007

    I did some primary research and found absolutely no evidence supporting this. It doesn’t mean someone won’t find something at some point, but for now this is just media sensationalism at its best. Even CCD has not been confirmed in the literature.

    http://www.biotunes.org/bioblog/2007/04/cell-phone-use-and-bees.html

  28. #28 Andrew Derksen
    April 19, 2007

    Just for the record, there are several other alternative hypotheses proposed for CCD by credible entomologists specializing in apiculture:

    http://pestalert.ifas.ufl.edu/Colony_Collapse_Disorder.htm

    Dr. Ellis’ suspicions lie in favor of several separate factors contributing to conditions that result in colony collapse. Among the more preeminent elements under research are the possible off-target effects of the increasingly high concentrations and diversity of chemical pesticides used to control landscape and crop pests. Crop pests have developed much more resiliance and resistance to these pesticides than domesticated bees, and while many of these sprays are designed not to have an off-target effect on beneficial insects, they are not always utilized appropriately by all growers. More curious is the fact that wild colonies of Africanized bees seem to display lower levels of CCD, and that this problem mostly appears to be affecting our domestics.

    Considerably more research needs to be done before anyone concludes a single specific cause for CCD, and I very much doubt that cell-phone use alone can explain it.

  29. #29 octopod
    April 20, 2007

    The pesticide bioaccumulation hypothesis does a better job of explaining why no-one’s eating the hives: they’re poisonous.

    D’you suppose Africanized bees are developing resistance which domesticated bees can’t, just due to their capacity to adapt faster? (For that matter, are domestic bees bred or left to reproduce naturally?)

  30. #30 Dennis George
    April 21, 2007

    After my limited research on the web this morning the cell phone theory, if that’s what it would be called, seems a stretch. A few much more likely causes could be, #1 Pesticides. It seems logical that we are having detrimental affect on friendly species as well as the pests. The fact that the dead hives are repulsing scavengers supports this. #2 Fungus or viral, with the onset of globalization. Here is a Penn State university professors speech. http://www.ento.psu.edu/MAAREC/CCDPpt/CoxFosterTestimonyFinal.pdf

  31. #31 Contrariwise
    April 21, 2007

    During a Congressional hearing on this one of the scientist said colonies of “killer bees” – wide spread in the South West – did not seem to be overly affected by this. The scary amount of inbreeding in our commercial bee populations was also discussed as well as concerns about the lack of study on the long term effects of genetically modified foods on the environment.

  32. #32 physics student
    April 29, 2007

    Given how impossible it’s been to get the professional scientific (pscientific) community to recognize, nevermind connect, some very obvious, unmistakable dots, it’s not surprising that we are having so much trouble connecting the dots on disappearing bees.

  33. #33 Heather Wallace
    May 1, 2007

    Hello all – I am the senior editor of Orato Media and I’m wondering if a scientist could contribute a hypothesis to our publication. For more information, please e-mail:

    heather@orato.com

    Sincerely,
    Orato Media Corp.
    http://www.orato.com

  34. #34 jim marshall
    August 12, 2007

    If you really look at the experiment at Landau University. It was a singular experiment, and no cell phone technolgy was uused, but rather a cordless telephone base, was put inside the hive. Just putting any large object in a hive will disturb the bees. I have kept as many as 30 hives within 50 feel of a cell phone tower, and saw no ill effects on the colonies. My bet is still on imidacloprid. Countries that have banned the use of this chemical are not seeing the colony collapse disorder. Jim Marshall. I have kept over 500 hives of bees.

  35. #35 PHYZX
    May 3, 2008

    I was wondering if the new military radar systems
    employed by MOD have an influence ?

  36. #36 PHYZX
    May 3, 2008

    Also what about digital tv , radio and other radiations ,
    Solar cycles ?

  37. #37 Kevin
    June 7, 2010

    Insects are very small with very simple immune systems. Any small change can cause something to effect them. Their size is close to the wave length of microwaves. So how could we say the cell phone towers is not the cause. It probably is a trigger and pesticides, GE plants and the micro waves together is causing the problem.